The Stand, by Stephen King – This was a long book, even more so since I read the unabridged edition, but I don’t know that I’ll have a long review for it. I did like it, and it’s pretty timely since the first part of it is about a mutated flu that wipes out most of the world’s population. I believe I started reading it when coronavirus was in the news, but hadn’t yet spread to the insane degree it eventually did. Anyway, it’s a very ambitious story with a lot of characters, some of whom I remembered well and others I found difficult to keep track of. It’s kind of like that for me nowadays even with much shorter books, however. Anyway, the survivors of the sickness travel through the devastated United States, with some quite effective descriptions of a country that had suddenly lost most of its population. They largely end up with one of two opposing forces, the 108-year-old God-fearing Mother Abigail in Boulder, Colorado and the evil Randall Flagg in Las Vegas. Flagg is essentially a demon in human form, with extensive powers and the ability to read and influence minds. He’s not all-powerful, but his limits are rather vaguely defined. He’s finally taken down not by the actions of the good guys so much as by a mentally ill follower turning against him at a crucial time. Really, he comes across as so thoroughly nasty that I’m not quite sure why anyone would join him, but I guess that’s where the desperate times and the mind control mojo come in. This is the first King I’ve read, but I get the impression from other sources that he likes to make his villains larger than life, rather than giving them rational motivations. I’ll probably read something else of his at some point, but maybe a shorter one next time.
Super Mario Manga Mania, by Yukio Sawada – The Super Mario-kun manga has run for a long time in Japan, but with no official English translation. I did come across fan translations of a few stories online. I wrote a little about them here. It retells the Mario games in a humorous fashion, often crude and full of corny gags, including ones where the characters mysteriously change shape or gain a prop for a panel to make a pun.
This is a best-of collection, featuring individual comics rather than entire story arcs. Games featured include Paper Mario, Super Mario Sunshine, Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time, Super Paper Mario, Super Paper Mario, and New Super Mario Bros. Wii. The focus on gags means that the characters sometimes act unnecessarily mean, although in some cases that’s more or less in line with the games, like when they throw each other around while fighting enemies.
I will say that the style of showing characters with multiple lumps on their heads when they get hurt looks disturbing, though. I definitely give the translator, Caleb Cook, credit for making English puns that work with the original images, which doesn’t necessarily mean they’re always funny.
Humor is difficult to translate, and even though the jokes make sense in English, there’s still some weird pacing to them. In the last story of the volume, “Super Mari-Old,” Sawada addresses his father’s death and how it interfered with his writing the comic, and does a bit of a metaphor for this with Mario becoming severely depressed and Luigi and Yoshi trying to snap him out of it, which they eventually do with Dr. Mario‘s help. I believe Dr. Mario is a separate character in the manga, but here it’s explained that he’s Mario from twenty-five years in the future (time enough to get a doctorate, I suppose).
The thing is, while I wouldn’t say they’re great comics, but they’re fun and bizarre, and I’d still like to read more.
The Art of Discworld, by Terry Pratchett and Paul Kidby – Looking back at Discworld now is kind of bittersweet, as it was a franchise I got into when it was still a going concern, but then the author died. At the time this was published, Going Postal was the latest book in the main series. Kidby’s drawings include cover art and character portraits, including some parodies of other works of art. Pratchett claimed that Kidby’s illustrations pretty much captured what he pictured in his head when writing.
There are also brief descriptions of the characters and situations pictured. It’s too bad we’re unlikely to ever see new works featuring them, but the series is already pretty fleshed out.
The Constant Rabbit, by Jasper Fforde – Not part of any of Fforde’s ongoing series but still set in an alternate England, it comments on prejudice and hypocrisy with a world where several animals have become anthropomorphic, mostly rabbits but also some foxes and weasels. The narrator, Peter Knox, is sympathetic to the rabbits, but works for an agency that criminally profiles them, due to his ability to tell them apart. A particular rabbit he used to date moves into his neighborhood with her husband, and Knox has to cooperate with competing interests in order to survive. The descriptions of rabbit culture are pretty interesting, and there’s some clever satire. Fforde does have a tendency to go off on tangents sometimes, however, and the story starts with a bit about libraries only being open for a few minutes at a time that doesn’t have that much to do with the main narrative. I get the impression that he has funny concepts that can’t carry a novel, and just has to work them into tales about other stuff.